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Are Canadians Tolerant?

Are Canadians tolerant?

The reaction to Don Cherry’s “You People” rant to buy and wear poppies in support of veterans or the need for Jason and Pamela Buffone to file an application with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario so their six year old daughter can self-identify as a girl, suggests Canadians are not.

According to Oxford Dictionary, tolerance means the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.

Anyone who has ever tuned in to Hockey Night in Canada and Coach’s Corner knows Don Cherry for his brash and opinionated statements. He’s legendary for it.  So, it’s not surprising that even though he never used the words “visible minority immigrants” many assumed he meant them, when he said,

You people that come here … whatever it is, you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you could pay a couple of bucks for a poppy. These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada. These guys paid the biggest price.   

On the one hand, the outcry of support by and for visible minority groups is great. On the other hand,  the assumption about what Don Cherry meant, the focus on the poor choice of words even after he explained that he should have said “everybody” rather than “you people”, the near blindness to the positive message he conveyed to support veterans, and the public calls for his firing, show incredible intolerance.

If Don Cherry had said “You white men, come here …” et cetera, would anyone even notice, never mind call for his firing? Unlikely.

Similarly, why can’t a child or anyone who has always thought of herself as a girl self-identify as such? It’s terrific that the Ottawa school the Buffones’ daughter attended teaches children that they can choose to identify as male, female or something in between. This shows tolerance for those who are confused or undecided with what gender they choose to associate.  However, the Buffones’ six-year-old always thought of herself as a girl.  Based on her teacher’s lessons the little girl was now confused because the lessons taught her, “girls are not real, and boys are not real.”

The principal offered only to exclude the Buffones’ daughter from such lessons.  There was no effort made to support and allow the child to self-identify as a girl. Instead, the Superintendent, the principal and the teacher seem to stand behind the idea that teaching gender fluidity means one cannot acknowledge the existence of boys and girls.  This is intolerance.

The Legatum Prosperity Index has almost always ranked Canada as one of the most tolerant nations.  The Index assesses the wealth and well-being of well over 100+ countries based on nine factors.  Personal Freedom is the factor that measures national progress towards basic legal rights, individual freedoms and social tolerance. This year, Canada ranked number 7 which is the lowest placement it has ever earned in at least 10 years.

Even though 7 out of 169 countries is respectable, is Canada becoming a less tolerant nation?

Canada officially supports the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from the United Nations. One of the rights is,

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

This right is a part of our Constitution, the supreme law in Canada.  Not all countries protect this right. Canadians are lucky.

While the law protects the right of people to express minority opinions, the law cannot monitor and dictate the behaviour of all its people all the time.  To be truly tolerant, Canadians must allow those expressing minority or unpopular views to be heard and to co-exist with those who support popular opinions.

Canadians need to live up to their reputation as being tolerant.

Canada Immigration Improves Efficiency

Canada Immigration Improves Efficiency

“Visa Application Centres to open around the world to assist travellers coming to Canada

February 23, 2018 – Ottawa, ON – Visa Application Centres (VAC) are a very cost-effective way for the Government of Canada to provide services to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) applicants around the world …”

Canada hopes to improve efficiency by using a third party agency to help process certain immigration applications.

Unfortunately, the immigration and visa office websites do not offer very clear instructions on how this new  process will work.  The instructions actually say:

“You can submit your application to the recommended visa application centre (VAC).”

It sounds like an applicant may choose to use a VAC or not.  Some applicants may not want to pay the extra fees and sign the additional releases and authorizations to use a VAC.

It was quite a surprise to receive the following email:

“… we received by mail your documents (regarding Client X). The Canadian Embassy in Ankara is no longer accepting mail-in applications. You have to submit your application or passport by mail/courier or in-person to the Visa Application Center (VAC).”

Apparently there is no choice with mail in applications.  Applicants must use the VAC if available.

The next sentence in the email was alarming:

We will keep your documents for 30 days. If you would like to have your documents back, send a prepaid envelope with a copy of this email at the address below. After this period, if we did not get an envelope, all the documents sent will be destroyed.”

Destroy? The client’s passport was in that package!

Anxious internet searches and phone calls are made to the Turkish postal service, UPS, DHL, and Federal Express to try and arrange for this prepaid envelope requested by the visa office.  It turns out, none of the couriers or Turkish postal service offer prepaid envelopes!

Emails and facsimiles, all marked “URGENT”, are sent to the visa office trying to seek clarification on their instructions and begging them not to destroy our client’s passport.  The result, useless automated responses and then 14 days of frightening silence.

A celebration practically breaks out when the long awaited response to one of our multiple inquiries arrives.  We received this email,

“As we advised you before, the Canadian Embassy in Ankara is no longer accepting mail-in applications. You have to submit your application or passport by mail/courier or in-person to the Visa Application Center (VAC) … We will keep your documents for 30 days … send a prepaid envelope … if we did not get an envelope, all the documents sent will be destroyed.”

Come on!

Another phone call to the visa office by the client is useless because the receptionist will not connect applicants to an immigration officer, has no information herself, and directs callers back to the website. Emails and facsimiles are sent again, marked “URGENT, URGENT, URGENT” despite the warning on the automated response.

“Please do not send repeat enquiries, as those will be deleted. We will contact you if and  when necessary.”

Wonder what constitutes necessary?

This time the silence only lasted 4 days.

“We will hold on to your documents. As a common practice we might recommend that you contact UPS or any other courier service provider, generate a prepaid package label (please see attached) and attach it by simply replying to this email. We will arrange the pickup once we receive the requested document.”

Finally.

A prepaid package label is sent to the visa office, the passport and application are returned, the application is then sent to the VAC, the VAC sends the package back to the visa office, and weeks later the visa office sends an email instructing us to submit a passport to finalize the process.  But the passport was in the original application package!

This time the VAC clears it up with the visa post.

Kudos to Canada for trying to make their immigration processes more accessible using VACs but clear instructions and responding to inquiries will help too.

Skilled Trade Workers Fall Through the Cracks

Skilled Trade Workers Fall Through the Cracks

Daniel* was born and raised in Northern Ireland, he speaks English fluently, he is in his twenties, and he is a formally trained experienced carpenter.  For the past year and a half he has been legally employed in Canada in his field.  He has also established a home and a network of friends and family. So, he wants to stay.  Unfortunately, he will likely have to leave Canada and all that he has established.

Why?

He was admitted to Canada on a work holiday visa. These visas essentially allow young working age foreigners to visit and work for 1 – 2 year periods. Canada grants certain countries like the United Kingdom and Ireland a set number of these visas. Citizens who meet basic minimal requirements can apply for these visas.

In 2012, Canadian employers and the then minister responsible for immigration visited Ireland to sell Canada as the best place to visit, work, and settle in.  The minister even appeared on their “Late Late Show” to talk about how Canada was suffering from a labour shortage. The goal was to double the number of work holiday visas for the Irish to 10,000. He assured the audience that “…if the (Irish visa holders) get a decent job, a skilled job for at least one year they will then have an option to stay permanently with permanent residency …” and they could, ”…choose eventually to stay if they think there’s a long term opportunity …”.

Sounds good, right?  But here’s the fine print not mentioned.

Those easy-to-obtain work holiday visas are temporary and not renewable. There is no transition program that allows temporary workers to become permanent residents.

Applicants trying to become permanent residents without being sponsored by a family member must acquire points.  Those with the highest points get in.  Points are awarded for age, foreign work experience, Canadian work experience, English or French skill, education, and other such factors.

Much to the surprise of Daniel* and other work holiday visa holders, their 1-2 years spent here counts for very little. How?

Most newcomers take at least a month to find a job in their field.   At best, work holiday visa holders will likely acquire no more than 1 full year of Canadian work experience.

Applicants for permanent residence only receive 43 points for 1 year, 53 points for 2 years, and a maximum of 80 points for 5 years of Canadian work experience.  This is out of a possible 1200 points.  While the Canadian government made changes that now allow for some additional points to be awarded for Canadian work experience combined with education and Canadian work experience combined with foreign work experience, the maximum number of additional points awarded remains low, topping out at an additional 100 points.

More importantly, most skilled trade workers will not receive any points for their vocational education.

Points for education are only awarded if an applicant’s credentials are assessed by a private government approved organization.  Oddly, these private organizations are not equipped to assess education programs that skilled trade workers undergo such as apprenticeships and vocational training. One response an applicant received was “…we are unable to complete an assessment for your Cskills Awards Level 2 and 3 because (we do) not evaluate trades training or vocational/professional training.” This means many skilled trade workers will not receive points for their vocational training even though it is the commonly recognized training for these skills.

Another challenge skilled trade workers face are the required government approved language assessments. While many skilled trade workers are fully capable of communicating in English to get their work done, they do not excel at standardized English tests. In fact, even applicants with doctorates have difficulty acing these standardized tests. This again means fewer points for the skilled trade workers.

In sum, these challenges mean that many temporary skilled trade workers fall between the cracks of the programs that allow them to become permanent residents of Canada despite the fact that we desperately need them.

Why do we need them?

Because Canada does not have the manpower it needs. In the 2016 census, the number of retirees outpaced the labour workforce (15 – 65 years old).  Add to that the shrinking fertility rate.  The average age of a woman giving birth is trending higher and currently sits at 30.2 years which is substantively older than mothers of the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Add to that, the fact that today’s mothers’ are having only 1-2 children, far fewer than their ancestors.

Also according to Manpower Group, a leading international staffing company, for seven consecutive years skilled trade jobs have been the most difficult to fill in Canada and this has been the case world-wide for five consecutive years.  More than ever, Canada clearly needs these skilled trade workers.

What can Canada do?

To keep this valuable group of skilled trade workers, Canada needs to either award more points to those who have secured jobs in their trades, recognize that standardized English assessments should not be the only way to assess literacy, recognize the vocational training so vital to skilled trade work, or create a separate transition program that helps temporary workers become permanent residents.

Canada rightfully encouraged Daniel* and other skilled trade workers to experience Canada and share their skills through work holiday visas. They have proven their alignment with Canadian values and goals, so why are we not trying to keep them here?

By failing to attract and retain these skilled trade workers, Canada risks losing a work force within its grasp and jeopardizing its future.

*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the subject

Citizenship must be about more than a genetic link

Citizenship Must Be About More Than A Genetic Link

Canadians take their citizenship for granted. At a time when the body of a 3-year-old Syrian boy washes up on a far-away shore and Canada has accepted a record number of refugees in months, we rarely take more than a moment to consider how lucky we are to have been born or to have immigrated here.

Not all children are that lucky.

The Canadian government is playing fast and loose with the definition of “Canadian.” In March 2014, the Federal Court of Appeal decided Nanakmeet Kandola, a young girl born abroad to a Canadian parent, was not a citizen because there was no genetic link between them. Nanakmeet’s mother carried and gave birth to her but she was the product of anonymously donated sperm and ova. Think of it as adoption in utero.

Yet, a child adopted by Canadian parents who fills out the same application for a Citizenship Certificate as Nanakmeet’s father did will be approved. No genetic link required.

Perversely, ex-Nazi war criminal Helmut Oberlander maintains his right to Canadian citizenship until yet another government review is completed. And shocking to some, children born to Canadian Daesh brides are considered citizens.

Where has Canada gone wrong?

The Citizenship Act dictates who is Canadian. There are three main roads to “become” Canadian — be born in Canada, immigrate and then apply when you meet all the requirements, or inherit citizenship through your parent or grandparent if born abroad. So why was Nanakmeet’s request for citizenship refused when others using the same route were approved?

The law is behind the times.

Sex and adoption were once the only ways a person was able to become a parent but times have changed. These options are now mere fence posts in the world of conception. As early as 1983, the first “test tube” birth occurred in Canada. In 2004, the Assisted Human Reproduction Act officially sanctioned fertility relationships with surrogates, where a woman carries a child for someone else, and ova and sperm donations. Today, assisted human reproduction is a full-fledged, albeit small, industry in Canada with fertility doctors, counsellors, clinics, lawyers and even agents.

Is it hypocritical for Canada to condone the birth of children through assisted fertility procedures but then deny some children citizenship because they were born through these same procedures?

The court decided Nanakmeet’s case two years ago. The majority of the court wrote, “Several important policy issues also arise because of the novelty which this case presents … These questions are worthy of further consideration and risk being answered by the Courts unless Parliament exercises its prerogative to deal with them by way of legislation.”

What changes do we need?

Canada must expand the definition of parent in the Citizenship Act to include those who use assisted fertility to become parents. Grant these children citizenship the same way naturally born and adopted children receive it. As long as a parent is legally recognized as the parent of their child, that child deserves citizenship.

As the Federal Court of Appeal warned, the government risks a host of policy issues if changes aren’t made to the law. Such issues include confusion if judges reach different conclusions with each case they decide. If genetics is the test, ova and sperm donors could pass their citizenship to children even if they aren’t parents to them. Surrogates could claim genetic links and the right to pass on citizenship to children they birth when the surrogate never parents the child. Being Canadian must mean more than having the right genetic link.

The new Liberal government and the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, John McCallum, have shown they are sympathetic to the realities of the times by admitting Syrian refugees, shortening processing times for certain immigration applications, and proposing changes to the Citizenship Act to make it easier to become a citizen.

Genetic link or not, don’t all children born abroad to Canadian parents deserve citizenship?

Originally published in the Toronto Star in March 2016